Forgiveness

for·give: [fer-giv]  verb (used with object)

1. to grant pardon for or remission of (an offense, debt, etc.); absolve.

2. to give up all claim on account of; remit (a debt, obligation, etc.).

3. to grant pardon to (a person).

4. to cease to feel resentment against: to forgive one’s enemies.

5. to cancel an indebtedness or liability of: to forgive the interest owed on a loan.

 

verb (used without object)

6. to pardon an offense or an offender.

Origins: The root of “forgive” is the Latin word “perdonare,” meaning “to give completely, without reservation.” (That “perdonare” is also the source of our English “pardon.”) When the Latin “perdonare” was adopted into the Germanic ancestor of English, it was translated piece-by-piece, making the result what linguists call a “calque” (from the French “calquer,” to trace or copy) a literal transliteration. “Per” was replaced by “for,” a prefix that in this case means “thoroughly,” and “donare” with “giefan” (“to give”). The result, “forgiefan,” appeared in Old English meaning “to give up, allow” as well as “to give in marriage.” In modern English, “forgive” has also taken on the meanings of “to pardon for an offense,” “renounce anger at” (“I forgive you for feeding bean tacos to my dog “) and “to abandon a claim on” (as in “forgive a debt”).

arabic Rumi poem

TRANSLATION:

Forgive me, that I cannot sleep; forgive

The thirsty ones that they have no water.

Forgive: if you never know forgiveness,

You’ll never know the blessings that God gives.

– Rumi

I’m not a very forgiving person.

It’s funny for me to type that, because there is a huge part of me that thinks I am extremely forgiving. I think of myself as a person always willing to be the bigger person, to pardon for an offense as described above. But as I step back and look at myself as objectively as I can, and as I look at some of my actions in the past with people I’ve cared for I have to be honest…I’m not. Not really and truly. I am definitely understanding, but not really forgiving.

FORGIVENESS DOVE

As I try to face this particular thing about myself, my justifications quickly come to my defense. I think of how patient I am with people – or how patient I think I am. I think about how much time I spend trying to understand other people’s perspectives and points of view and motivations for whatever they say or do.  I think of how much I have often tolerated out of a sense of fairness, loyalty or devotion to someone or something, without complaint or consideration. How can I say I don’t forgive in light of all that? And while all of these things are true, these things are exactly why forgiveness is so hard for me – I feel that after having extended myself to such lengths with a person, if they still can’t get it right, they don’t deserve my forgiveness. I turn my back on them and everything to do with them, totally and completely. To make matters worse, I typically do this by writing a very stinging “fuck you” letter or email.

Why does this make matters worse? It makes matters worse because evidently I write extremely memorable, harsh, “fuck you” letters. My “fuck you” letters strike the heart and draw blood like a sharp blade. Don’t believe that old adage that says words can never hurt you; I got words that can top any damage sticks and stones could ever do. It only stands to reason I have this gift, because I am a writer. But because I am a writer, and I’m surrounded by other writers, I don’t think of my gift as a particularly unusual or lethal one. So when I unleash it, to me its just average, run of the mill stuff. Not so much to others. Everyone I have ever known who I’ve written a fuck you letter/email to has kept that letter for years after I wrote it. Even after I reconciled with the person they were still able to pull out that letter, show it to me, and tell me in great detail how much it hurt them literally years after the letter/email was sent. In the cases where I didn’t reconcile with the person, I often found that other mutual friends/acquaintances we had would often tell me about the “fuck you” letter/email I’d written; the person I’d written it to had told them about it or even showed it to them in many cases. I even had one friend claim they went into therapy a week after receiving one of my “fuck you” letters. It is always amazing to me to see the power of my words – even when I factored in that this was a person I was close to, so of course my words would naturally hurt more than someone else’s words. But I have had this happen with casual acquaintances as well. In fact once a snarky response I made to a co-worker via email that was particularly acerbic and sarcastic got me free lunch for a week from several of my other co-workers who didn’t like the colleague I had responded to. As this happened to me over and over, as I am finding people remember my harsh commentary in particular with a great deal of emphasis, I have tried to be mindful of the power my words possess – unfortunately without much success.

in other news

I was reminded of all this when talking to one of my best friends. He was asking me how I had been doing since my most recent breakup, and I hold him I was doing okay all things considered. He was never in favor of me ending the relationship; he felt I had acted much too hastily in dealing with the young man and told me to leave some space in my heart for him in case an opportunity to reconcile presented itself at some point in the future.  He asked me if I was open to reconciliation and I said “well he’d have to approach me with a serious apology and some serious plans for us, but I’d hear him out, sure.” He then asked if I would approach him if I wanted to reconcile. I said, “well I’ve tried. When we first argued and broke up I tried calling, emailing, texting. He didn’t respond. At all. He hasn’t responded. At all.” My friend suggested that perhaps my ex was still just very angry and upset, and he asked if I would consider re-approaching the situation down the road. I said, “truthfully, I don’t think so. I already feel so rejected by him. He’s never been very forgiving. To him it’s a sign of weakness; it means you’ve let someone get away with something. I don’t know if I could bear that. I don’t think I would have the nerve.” And then my friend said, “well Tula, you may have to forgive him of not being open to you initially. You know how harsh you can be when ending something; some of the things you say really cut deep.”

not as great as I thought

I really couldn’t refute that, because he knows firsthand about that harshness. While he is one of my best friends, and has been for a few years now, we only reconciled in the last year or so.  Yes, he is my rock and I talk to him at least 3-4 times a week, but at one time he and I went years without speaking because of something I was angry with him about. I don’t even remember what it was now. But at the time it was serious to me, and I remember sending him a “fuck you” email. While I don’t remember what I said, whatever it was kept him far away from me for a very long time – and he was one of my closest friends. It took him over 2 years to very tentatively reach out to me, and even then I rebuffed him very harshly. It took me going through a huge emotional downward spiral to bring us back together. I was in a horribly dark, awful place at the time, feeling like I was drowning but knowing I did not want to drown. So I began reaching out for anyone and everyone who could save me, who could help me save myself. So one evening, tears flooding my eyes, I sent him an email saying “I know I’ve been awful to you. But I need you. I need your help. I’m drowning. If you ever cared for me, please reach back.” He called me within the hour, and he let me cry in his ear for hours that night (and for many days afterwards), while he was at work, driving home from work, driving to work, running errands, or whatever he was doing. He was so forgiving in fact he didn’t even insist that we address our issues before he would help me. He immediately let me rant about the breakup, and we didn’t discuss our issues until several phone calls later. Even when we did, he was nothing but kind to me, and he said “Tula, I know you’re a good person. If anyone is a good person, you are. But even good people fuck up.”

FORGIVE BALL JOINTED DOLLS

That was the first time I fully realized I wasn’t really a forgiving person. I am not sure if I could do what he did; I don’t know if I could just freely and openly reach out to a drowning friend who I was in the midst of not speaking to, especially if we didn’t resolve the issues between us first. But he saw I needed a friend and he rushed right in, no questions asked, no judgments, requiring nothing of me. That is a real friend. Sometimes I’ll listen to him talking about this or that and wonder why he’s still around. But one good thing that came out of it was I really got to hear from someone about my verbal harshness when I’m feeling pushed, and he let me know how awful it is, which has led me to really, REALLY look at why I’m so unforgiving. I think about all the relationships I have ended because at some point the other person did something I simply could not/would not forgive them for. When I made those decisions, I felt that person had not lived up to the standard I had set for our relationship – a standard I always felt I had upheld, no matter what challenges faced the relationship. I especially thought about the relationships I thought had the potential to be become marriage at some point.

wedding bands

One thing I know about marriage (thanks to my parent’s example) is that part of maintaining reasonably successful marriage depends on both partners’ willingness to forgive each other of all things. ALL THINGS. Of course, part of that success also rests on each partner being committed to NOT DOING unforgivable things – but if it happens, no let me rephrase, when it happens, when something you would typically consider unforgivable occurs, can you forgive and move on? That kind of forgiveness is what must happen, often over and over again, in successful long-term marriages. If you aren’t capable of that, you aren’t going to be capable of successful marriage. I’m not in any way condoning accepting abuse at all. But what I am saying is that if you’re really trying to be with someone for the long haul, chances are you’re going to have to be A LOT more forgiving than you are right now, NO MATTER how forgiving you are right now – at least once (if you’re lucky) you’re gonna have to get past something that in a pre-marriage lifetime you would have considered unthinkable. It may be a big thing, or a small thing, but it will be something that will challenge your boundaries. The people closest to you are the ones that can hurt you the most because of their proximity to you. It’s the difference between being shot at point-blank range and being shot from a distance, and you have to figure out how to recover.

PREDICTORS OF FORGIVENESS

As I started thinking about my unforgiving nature, one thing I considered was that in my dealings with people, I tend to not mention things as soon as they start to bother me. I overlook a lot of “small” things, things that I don’t necessarily feel require discussion, even though they may be bothering me. This is the “patience” that I mentioned earlier, the unwillingness to make an issue of every single thing. I’m a firm believer in picking one’s battles, yes. Unfortunately, a lot of times I don’t pick any battles at all. That’s not good either. As a result, those little things can pile up and fester, and once the breaking point is reached, all of these little issues come together to create a big issue that has so much weight and force, it just causes the relationship to cave in under the weight of it all. If I had perhaps sought to address some of the smaller things when they were small and manageable instead of sweeping them under the rug, they might not have had the opportunity to become big and powerful. My easy-going nature could perhaps lead someone to believe that nothing bothers me, which is untrue. Lots of things bother me. But if I don’t let that other person know what bothers me, how can they possibly address it? And if I’d really “let it go” when it was a small thing, how did it manage to stick around to become something bigger by joining forces with other “small things”? There is a great deal to be said for nipping certain things in the bud, and that is a lesson that I am just starting to really appreciate. I’m discovering being so laid-back isn’t always a good thing, and finding the balance between bud-nipping and nitpicking is crucial for me.

I consider the idea that I may use an unwillingness to forgive as a defense mechanism. Is it something I do so I don’t have to deal with challenges to the way I see things? Do I feel that I am a weak person because at times I have considered forgiving people of things I considered abhorrent offenses, and rather than feel I’d been taken advantage of, I dismissed them from my life? Have I just been unwilling to accept that there could be someone in my life that I would take shit off of just to have them there? But truth be told, if you don’t forgive at least one person every time you are put in a position to take shit off them, you’re always going to find reasons to let people go, and then you’ll always end up alone eventually. So how do you determine which person’s shit you should put up with for a lifetime? How difficult is it to admit that there is one person whom you love so much, even if you disagree, argue, fight, ultimately it will not matter because you will always forgive them and move on? And more importantly…they will always forgive you? That leads me to my next question for myself – am I able to let others forgive me, truly forgive me without continuing to beat myself up about it?

getting defensive

I sometimes wonder if my inability to forgive others is because I cannot forgive myself for the many things I feel I’ve done wrong. I am an extremely harsh critic of everything, but most especially myself. Being a harsh critic is good in many aspects of my life – as an editor it’s a good thing, and as I try to advise my artistic friends regarding their creative endeavors, it’s a good thing definitely. But I’m learning being endlessly hard on myself isn’t good for me at times, even if I do chose to call it “honesty” or “being realistic”. I am always examining everything I’m saying or doing, wondering if it was my best effort. It’s the Virgo in me – the constant analysis of things in the endless pursuit of some semblance of perfection. And my harsh critique extends even to how I view my life. I sometimes feel like such a failure in my life – I feel like I was capable of so much more, and while I know my life isn’t over yet, I feel like so much time has passed, I wonder if a change is ever really going to come…a real change in my life, changes that would allow me to make my loved ones comfortable, that would allow me to finally, at least for one shining moment, feel like I had truly succeeded in something I desperately wanted to be successful at in a big, significant, shining way.

In my family, I was always the smart one. The talented one. The gifted one. The intelligent one. Not  just intelligent mind you – like a super genius or something. I was always the one with so much promise, so much potential.  I was my family’s “Neo”, like in “The Matrix”. I was “The One”. I was the one who was going to save the family – I never was quite sure from who, whom, or what – but whatever it was, I was going to be the one to do it. When I was younger I would always try to figure out what I was supposed to be saving everyone from, and I would even wonder why they couldn’t at least help me save them from…whatever, but I never asked those questions. Was it the forces of darkness and evil? Was it crime? What was my family in the clutches of, and why was I the only one who could save them? And why would they wait until I was born to decide they had to be saved? I mean – the people in my family had been around years before I was born; why hadn’t anyone done this before me? Or at least tried? To this day I don’t like superheroes in comics in part for this very reason – I was groomed to be one and failed. Miserably.

failed superhero

You know what the “F” is for…”failure”.

I was always led to believe that my saving the family had a lot to do with money, and that somehow my combination of smarts, skill and talent had to earn financial security not only for my immediate family, but my extended family as well. It would also lead to the other kinds of freedom that money can buy – freedom to do what you want, pursue all kinds of wishes and dreams and so on. So with me leading the way, I would release them from the matrix of their financial burdens. I would do great things with my life, become extremely accomplished, a beacon of bright shining success that everyone could use to navigate their way to shore. From the time I was small I remember the whispers among my family about how I was “The One”…and although I didn’t totally understand and it didn’t make much sense to me, I could sense the urgency behind their whispers, and that urgency alone caused me to embrace the superhero task. They needed me to be “The One”. I was meant to be “The One”. I was Neo. Neo Caesar.

THE ONE

As you’ve probably figured out by now, I was not successful at saving the family. I did not transform all my skills, gifts and talents into anything particularly remarkable by my standards. To me, I had everything I needed to make my life wonderful and glorious and great. But I didn’t. I plodded along, mediocre at best in all the things that mattered. No amazing jobs, no wonderful husband, no beautiful home or beautiful cars. No acclaim for any particular thing I’ve done. Yeah, by some people standards I’ve done okay, but not by mine. My family has struggled in many ways, especially financially because of choices I’ve made, or did not make. As a result, my life is as ordinary as everyone else’s, and it didn’t have to be to me. I was The One, and I turned out to be The Less Than One, The Zero, even the Less Than Zero. This is the biggest thing for which I will not forgive myself.

less than zero

As I think about forgiveness all the way around, I mentally make a list of improvements I need to make to be better at this. I need to let myself off the hook first of all. I am not this huge failure that I make myself out to be. I’m really not. I forgive myself for not being what I imagined myself to be, what I imagined that I was supposed to become. And I work towards accepting that it’s okay to let others forgive me, and even in that I must be okay in the time frame it takes them to forgive me – forgiveness does not work on my schedule, or how/when I think it should. I must continue to truly take to heart what my friend said to me – “Good people fuck up.” I cannot continue to remove people from my life for everything they do wrong, real or imagined. I must truly determine the value of my loved ones. Are they really disposable to me? Every single time something goes wrong, I just toss them out like smelly garbage? I must more carefully consider who is necessary in my life, because for those I consider necessary, I must be willing to be forgiving. If you truly think everyone is disposable under the right set of conditions, you will dispose of everyone. That will certainly leave a very tiny circle of people in my life, and rightfully so, because forgiveness is hard. Even as we do it, we find ourselves fighting our hurts, our insecurities, our unwillingness to bend. We fight our need to feel validated, we fight our feeling that forgiveness means our hurt behind whatever the situation is does not matter. We fight the idea that forgiveness clears space in our head, space full of hurt and pain that could be used much more effectively. We can’t be sure if we want or need the space, so we cling to the devil we know because we fear the potential devil we don’t know. We feel we’re letting the other person off the hook for their wrongdoing in a situation; that they are getting off scot-free without punishment. We fight forgiveness for all these things, completely understandable human things, but things that ultimately weigh our spirits down. Things that make our spirits bloated, obese, unable to fly and move about freely. And my spirits certainly need to lose a few pounds so – I think I need to consider who I need to forgive – even if they never know I did it.

Maybe that “F” on my chest is for “forgiveness” – or better yet, “freedom”.

“All I can say is that my life is pretty plain,
I like watchin’ the puddles gather rain
And all I can do is just pour some tea for two
And speak my point of view but it’s not sane…”

No Rain – Blind Melon

Until next time,

Tula

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